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STLCC Horticulture Program Adapts to Virtual Classroom

Outdoor horticulture classroom

What comes to mind when you think about horticulture? The great outdoors? Gardening. Parks. Maybe an arboretum?

It certainly doesn’t bring to mind a virtual classroom.

Yet, that’s exactly what the Horticulture department at St. Louis Community College had to contend with when the College, following city and county guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, made the decision to suspend in-person classes in favor of virtual learning in March. All horticulture classes moved to a live virtual lecture format and remained so through the summer semester.

“The biggest challenge was teaching online to students that wanted to be outdoors,” said Carrie Coyne, program facilitator. “The outdoor portion of our labs is a crucial part of the program, and most students have chosen horticulture because they don’t want to be behind a computer.”

Instead of viewing this change as an insurmountable challenge, faculty and staff were determined to find a way to adapt.

“Students and instructors have learned new ways to use technology in horticulture, resulting in big successes,” said Coyne. “We’ve used plant identification apps and videos that relate to class content. Many classes have included more discussion and less instruction, which is a new way of learning for all of us.”

The result was that students did more practical work outside of campus—learning to diagnose and solve problems on their own, using technology as their aide.

“Our students and instructors have been able to accomplish a lot with technology,” said Coyne.

One unforeseen win during this time was that more visitors from the community came to the STLCC-Meramec’s garden classroom, a 10-acre section on the southwest corner of campus. The area includes living laboratories and outdoor classrooms where horticulture students gain hands-on experience.

“Visitors have learned that our gardens are a peaceful respite from their daily structures,” said Coyne. “Many have come to know gardening as a new hobby during this pandemic, and we are happy to be a part of this new passion.”

Horticulture classes remain in the live virtual lecture format for the foreseeable future, with the lab portions of classes outdoors in the garden classroom.

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